SRS workers' clothes contaminated

Two Savannah River Site workers were discovered with traces of plutonium 238 on their clothing in November, but followup monitoring concluded they received no internal exposure.

"In this case, the two people had contamination on their clothing, but not on themselves," said Will Callicott, spokesman for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the site's primary contractor. "The contamination was detected through routine monitoring while exiting the work area, so the radiation detection system worked as designed."

The incident occurred the week of Nov. 13 in the site's Solid Waste Management Facility, according to a report made public this month by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The operators were moving drums of radioactive waste that had been sitting in several inches of water in a concrete culvert, the report said.

Although the drums were dried after being removed, and no contamination was found on the drums or in the water in which they were sitting, both workers were later found to have contamination on their clothing, with highest concentrations on one worker's shoes.

The source of the contamination was later determined to be a leaking drum and steps were taken to clean up the area.

The workers were monitored and determined to have no exposure.

The incident was one of just two contamination events of a reportable threshold that occurred in 2009. In September, a construction foreman contaminated his personal clothing on a job in H area.

"Given the amount of work we do that involves radiological materials, that's an extremely low number," Mr. Callicott said.

Plutonium 238 is highly toxic, but its primary danger is inhalation or ingestion, which can lead to cancer.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.